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 Glutathione  THE SUPER FOOD

Scientists at the Buck Institute have shown that mice suffering from a depletion of the antioxidant glutathione in dopamine-producing neurons developed nerve damage and symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in humans. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the mid-brain which facilitates many critical functions, including motor skills. Past studies have shown that depletion of the naturally occurring antioxidant in the affected area of the brain is one of the earliest signs of PD, but this study shows that glutathione depletion may be a causal factor in the disorder. Results of the study, led by faculty member Julie Andersen PhD, are to be published in the December 19, 2007 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

In the course of their research, Buck Institute scientists created a new model for studying PD, a progressive, incurable neurodegenerative disorder that affects 1.5 million Americans and results in tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity. They bred mice that can be chemically induced to develop a depletion of glutathione in the dopaminergic neurons as adults (animals unable to create glutathione would not survive in the womb). By inducing the depletion at various stages of the adult lifecycle scientists researchers also highlighted the connection between aging and PD. Mice induced to have glutathione depletion as young adults did not develop Parkinsonian-like nerve damage and symptoms, while those who suffered from the depletion in late middle age did develop a loss of dopaminergic neurons specifically related to PD.

In addition, the study suggests that loss of glutathione in the affected neurons may impact on energy production in the mitochondria, the “power plant” of the cells. This appears to involve a particular enzyme complex called mitochondrial complex I. Enzymatic activity of this complex has been found to be compromised in PD patients, but to date it has not been clear how this inhibition occurs.

Glutathione is recognized as a detoxifying antioxidant that helps the body repair damage from stress, pollution, infection and damage. While available in supplemental form, the antioxidant does not easily cross the blood-brain barrier. A pilot study in 1996 in which a small group of untreated PD patients were given daily intravenous infusions of glutathione over the period of a month reportedly resulted in a significant improvement in disability. “Whether such treatment was effective in altering brain levels of glutathione or in having lasting effects is unclear,” said Andersen. “However, our data suggests that maintaining glutathione levels is critical for protecting neurons associated with PD from neurodegeneration. This work also points to glutathione replacement as a possible therapeutic avenue for PD and other related disorders.”

“The novelty of this study is in finding a way to decrease glutathione synthesis in neural tissue by genetic manipulation and in demonstrating that this appears to allow inactivation of a critical component of mitochondrial function through the same mechanism that could only be previously demonstrated in a cell culture model,” said Henry Jay Forman, PhD, Professor, School of Natural Sciences, UC Merced. “The implications for the role of glutathione depletion in the mechanism of Parkinson’s disease are clear.”

Glutathione, the body's master antioxidant and detoxifier, is one of the 14 "Superfoods" listed in SuperFoods Rx : Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, co-authored by Dr Steven Pratt.

Glutathione levels cannot be increased to a clinically beneficial extent by orally ingesting a single dose of glutathione. (1) This is because glutathione is manufactured inside the cell, from its precursor amino acids, glycine, glutamate and cystine.

Hence food sources or supplements that increase glutathione must either provide the precursors of glutathione, or enhance its production by some other means.

The manufacture of glutathione in cells is limited by the levels of its sulphur-containing precursor amino acid, cysteine.

Cysteine - as a free amino acid - is potentially toxic and is spontaneously catabolized or destroyed in the gastrointestinal tract and blood plasma. However, when it is present as a cysteine-cysteine dipeptide, called cystine, it is more stable than cysteine.

Consuming foods rich in sulphur-containing amino acids can help boost glutathione levels. Here are some food sources and dietary supplements that help boost glutathione levels naturally.

1. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)

It is derived from the amino acid L-Cysteine, and acts as a precursor of glutathione. NAC is quickly metabolized into glutathione once it enters the body. It has been proven in numerous scientific studies and clinical trials, to boost intracellular production of glutathione, and is approved by the FDA for treatment of accetaminophen overdose. Because of glutathione's mucolytic action, NAC (brand name Mucomyst) is commonly used in the treatment of lung diseases like cystic fibrosis, bronchitis and asthma.

2. Milk Thistle, Silymarin

Milk thistle is a powerful antioxidant and supports the liver by preventing the depletion of glutathione. Silymarin is the active compound of milk thistle. It is a natural liver detoxifier and protects the liver from many industrial toxins such as carbon tetrachloride, and more common agents like alcohol.

3. Alpha Lipoic Acid

Made naturally in body cells as a by-product of energy release, ALA increases the levels of intra-cellular glutathione, and is a natural antioxidant with free radical scavenging abilities. It has the ability to regenerate oxidized antioxidants like Vitamin C and E and helps to make them more potent. ALA is also known for its ability to enhance glucose uptake and may help prevent the cellular damage accompanying the complications of diabetes. It also has a protective effect in the brain.

4. Natural Foods That Boost Glutathione Levels

Asparagus is a leading source of glutathione. Foods like broccoli (2), avocado and spinach are also known to boost glutathione levels. Raw eggs, garlic and fresh unprocessed meats contain high levels of sulphur-containing amino acids and help to maintain optimal glutathione levels.

5. Undenatured Whey Protein Isolate

Whey protein contains proteins like alpha-lactalbumin which is is rich in sulphur-containing amino acids. Heating or pasteurization destroys the delicate disulphide bonds that give these proteins their bioactivity. Undenatured whey protein is a non-heated product that preserves bioactive amino acids like cystine. It has been shown in numerous scientific studies and clinical trials to optimize glutathione levels.

6. Curcumin (Turmeric)

Treatment of brain cells called astrocytes, with the Indian curry spice, curcumin (turmeric) has been found to increase expression of the glutathione S-transferase and protect neurons exposed to oxidant stress. (3)

7. Balloon Flower Root

Changkil saponins (CKS) isolated from the roots of the Chinese herbal medicine, Platycodon grandiflorum A. DC (Campanulaceae), commonly called Balloon Flower Root or Jie Geng, have been found to increase intracellular glutathione (GSH) content and significantly reduce oxidative injury to liver cells, minimise cell death and lipid peroxidation. (4)

8. Selenium

Selenium is a co-factor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Selenium supplements have become popular because some studies suggest they may play a role in decreasing the risk of certain cancers, and in how the immune system and the thyroid gland function. However, too much selenium can cause some toxic effects including gastrointestinal upset, brittle nails, hair loss and mild nerve damage.

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